$1.3bn agreement in Western Australia suffers setback after some Indigenous representatives argue they didn’t support it
A $1.3bn native title deal with the Noongar people cannot be registered because some Indigenous representatives refused to approve it, the federal court has ruled.
Under the land use agreement, the Noongar would surrender native title rights in a 200,000 sq km area from Jurien north of Perth to Ravensthorpe in the Goldfields-Esperance region in exchange for $1.3bn of land, finance and benefits over 12 years.
But the deal was challenged in court, with some of the representatives arguing the lodgment with the native title registrar was invalid because they did not sign the agreement. On Thursday, the federal court agreed.
The premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett, said it was a very disappointing decision but insisted the deal would proceed.
“The settlement of native title over Perth and the south-west is the biggest native title settlement in Australian history and, looking into the future, there will never ever be one larger in terms of the area covered geographically, the numbers of Aboriginal people – over 20,000 – and the value of the settlement,” he said.
“It includes money, it includes land, it includes employment opportunities and gives Aboriginal people a real opportunity for self-determination.”
Barnett said only a small number of Aboriginal people objected to any settlement of native title and they were the ones “frustrating it through the courts”.
The opposition spokesman on Aboriginal affairs, Ben Wyatt, said he was also disappointed with the judgment. “I hope this can be rectified because ultimately it’s my view that the settlement of native title is good for the Noongar people,” he said. Wyatt said if the court wanted to get 100% consent then Aboriginal people would never get any outcomes in respect of native title
“There are 40,000 Noongars, the majority live poor – a significant proportion dirt-poor – and with a firmament of institutionalised negative social issues that require big-picture social reforms,” he told Guardian Australia.
“If we are to authentically address these endemic and pernicious issues then Noongars have to negotiate long-term comprehensive social reforms that will transform lives but nothing like this this cheap, piecemeal, minimalist and reductionist package.”
Georgatos said the decision raised questions about treaties, of which the Noongar deal had been suggested as an example.
“If this is what a treaty will look like then I’d advise: run from this. This is no treaty that any right-minded person would want. In the end the federal court ruled that the few cannot speak for the many and there is now the opportunity for Noongars and all other First Peoples to say, ‘We’ll define treaty, not you’.”
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report